As I stumbled to pull on my size 11 mountain climbing shoes (they felt like the were size 9, max) I was really quite excited to experience indoor rock climbing, at the Dogtooth Climbing Gym, for my first time. I had only seen movies and photos of manic rock climbers scaling mountains and cliffs, and I knew that those types of scenarios were certainly not for me; however, indoor, controlled climbing was.
I was equipped with a snug-fitting harness that synched tightly around my waist and legs; I had visions of my time swinging from the sides of skyscrapers in Toronto when I was a high-rise maintenance worker. I thought if I managed to do that for so long that this rock climbing would be enjoyable, with me not actually having to try to work with a harness on.
My group was led into the climbing area; its springy blue floor felt a lot like a frozen trampoline. Climbing ropes hung strategically everywhere in the massive room from a ceiling that seemed to carry on forever; the ropes looked like colourful strands of spaghetti barely hanging onto an overturned platter. Multicoloured climbing holds dotted the walls like sesame seeds on a bun; colourful pieces of tape were stuck around every hold. I had no idea what the tape was for, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before I found out.
Having a couple of people in my group who had actually rock climbed before, our training went along quite rapidly; being one of the least experienced in our party, I was given zero responsibility, just the way I like it. All I had to do was climb, and attempt to follow those coloured pieces of tape as I did so.
My first climb went even better than I had hoped it would; it must have been the children’s section of the mammoth room. After being told to use my legs more, and not just rely on pulling exclusively with my arms, my second climb also went well; my fingers felt like I had been playing guitar at a week-long concert, but none-the-less I was doing pretty good, and enjoying myself too.
It was then suggested that I pick a colour and climb the wall, utilizing only the climbing holds that had that certain coloured pieces of tape beneath. Well, that may be fine for most people, but when you have colour-blind eyes like I do, the task becomes tenfold.
So, there I went, following the green tape (by the way, green is the hardest colour for me to identify). The first six or so feet started off pretty well for me. My belay partner, the person I trusted with my life, assisted me by hollering up to me directions of what I should do with which hand or foot and where to put them; it was like a vertical game of Twister. At about 15 feet, I was on my own. I was all alone on a cliff that I had visualized in my mind. There was no wind, but something kept pushing my trembling fingers off of the oddly shaped climbing holds. No water was dripping onto my head from an unknown water source, but sweat from my fingertips made it feel as if there was.
I had long given up on trying to follow the confusing tape trail as I reached the “summit” for my third time. I glanced down at my belayer, partially to make sure he was still awake due to my time-consuming climb; he was on the ball, and let me know it was fine to just “let go” and rappel back down to safety.
The strangest part of the whole experience for me was “letting go”. When you are hanging onto a swing-stage in downtown Toronto at 600-plus feet with wind, the concept of “letting go” is about as relevant as soda is to space dust. I had trouble “letting go”.
After some minor mockery, I did let go, and didn’t move; I was suspended in mid-air, feeling like a strange bird in my harness. I took pleasure in the interesting feeling, but wanted down almost immediately. My feet were back on the ground in seconds; my belaying partner was a pro.
The climbing carried on for a couple of more hours, until my forearms began to look like Popeye’s. Again, my fingers were sore, clearly under trained for such rigorous exercise. As I peeled my tight climbing shoes from my feet, my toes shouted as if freed from a leather prison. I was now an experienced indoor rock climber, or at least that is what I will tell my family back home.